Jun 18

Gaining Perspective

Tag: humorous,introspection,musings,preparationjonny5waldman @ 6:26 am

[Reposted from my Outside blog]

In late November I flew to the East Coast to visit my family for Thanksgiving. It was the first time I’d spent 10 days away from the boat in six months. They gave me an earful, my family.

On a walk in the woods with my mom, she asked if I was “prepared to weather a downturn in the economy.” I hemmed and hawed, and admitted all my savings were sunk into the sailboat. Then I tried to explain that cruising is really cheap — you load up on rice and beans, and just take off and go, like a climbing road trip. She seemed unconvinced, and rightly so.

My cousin Myles asked if I was done fixing up the boat; I told him it was complicated, that the boat was sorta like his house — a huge, ornate 1880’s Victorian, perpetually mid-repair, in a historic town. He grasped the situation immediately, and said, “So you’ll never be finished.” I smiled. “Exactly.”

My cousin Joel told me to read “Adrift” — Steve Callahan’s terrifying story of shipwreck and survival — and I told him I had, and that if he thought that story was good, he should read “Survive the savage sea,” by Dougal Robertson.

This got them — my whole extended family, now — riled up, and the comments began to pour forth. Myles, reasoning that piracy was more of a threat than sinking, suggested that I acquire cannons. My dad chimed in: torpedos! Myles: machine guns! My cousin Jim: Missiles!

I opened another beer, and tried not to get defensive. Maybe I should bring their phone numbers, so that I could have the would-be-pirates call them directly to negotiate the ransom?

While home, I also added a few more names to the list of People Who Wish They Could Come Sailing With Us:

-My mother’s boss
-At least one of my folks’ neighbors
-Half of my friends, including one who’s just finishing grad school and afraid to look for a job
-At least one former coworker

Heckling and eager stowaways aside, it felt good to get away from the boat and gain some some perspective. Onboard Syzygy, it’s easy to get so involved, so focused, so lost within a project that it’s impossible to decompress or relax. At the same time, being away from the boat was also disorienting. Soon enough, withdrawn from the boat, I found myself getting antsy. I chalked it up as an urge to tinker. The urge to repair and build was so physical — like I needed to hold tools in my hands lest they curl up and wither — that I had to wonder if the sailboat thing hadn’t changed me.

I climbed up onto the roof of my folks’ house and did some caulking. I put down some new roof with my dad. I cleaned the gutters. I tried to go with the urge, but this was just regular maintenance. I still yearned to build something, and the opportunity that presented itself came, courtesy of my mother, in the shape of… a squirrel-proof bird feeder. It was no sailboat, but it was a challenge: could I use a little ingenuity to outwit mother nature? (The answer, sadly, was no. Squirrels are tenacious little things.) As I dug through the garage looking for parts, I wondered: do I enjoy asking for trouble? Do I tend to invite problems my way? In another sense, I was looking for an opportunity to solve a problem. Such opportunities are often compelling. Can I get up that rock? Can I get up that mountain? Can I get down that canyon? Can I run those 26 miles? Or how about: Can I fix up an old sailboat and sail it around the world?

I spent last week away from the Syzygy, too, visiting my family again. The urge to tinker was still there — I climbed up the Chestnut tree in the backyard and hacked off some dead branches, and sanded and painted the rusting wrought iron railings on the front steps — but even more evident was the urge to nestle in, stay put, have some coffee and just relax. After all this fixing-up-a-sailboat work, I needed a break. I needed to, as they say in the South, “set a spell.” So I sat. And that’s when I noticed the coolest thing: I’ve changed. I’m way more patient than I used to be (though still no saint). I’m way more eager to immerse myself fully in a task. And I’m more comfortable without distractions, just me and my thoughts.

This last realization occurred near the end of a six-hour, coast-to-coast flight, when I noticed the passengers near me getting fidgety, almost childishly so. I sat, knees bent, safety belt buckled, neck squished against one of those godawful airplane headrests that comes standard on those godawful airplane seats, and thought: this is nothing. This aint no sailboat, and this aint no ocean.

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